Eye Pain

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What is it? 

Most people suffer from eye pain or sore eyes at some point in life. In most cases it can be resolved simply, but it can also be a sign of something more serious.  

Eye pain (not due to injury) is often described as burning, sharp, shooting, dull, aching, throbbing, or stabbing. Sometimes you may feel as if there is a foreign body in the eye.

Sometimes eye pain is confused with other symptoms, such as a headache, sinus pain, toothache, or a migraine.  

Your vision is precious, so eye pain should always be taken seriously.  

The only way to sort out the various potential causes of eye pain and to get appropriate treatment is to see a doctor or an ophthalmologist (a specialist who deals only with eyes). 

What causes it? 

A wide variety of disorders can cause pain in or around the eye.

Causes of eye pain fall into two broad categories: ocular pain and orbital pain.

Ocular pain is eye pain coming from the outer structures of the surface of the eye.

Orbital pain is described as a deep, dull ache behind or in the eye.

Diseases of the eye often cause this pain.

Glaucoma can cause orbital pain, although most cases of glaucoma are painless. Glaucoma is caused by an increase in intraocular pressure, or internal eye pressure, which can ultimately lead to defects in vision and even blindness if left untreated.

Some of the problems that can cause eye pain are:  

  • Burns (including chemical and flash burns)

  • Blepharitis (inflammation or infection of the eyelid)

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) or any inflammation of the upper and lower lids

  • Contact lens complications

  • Foreign bodies (eg dirt, debris)

  • Glaucoma

  • Infection

  • Injury (eg corneal abrasions or ulcerations)

  • Irritation

  • Iritis (inflammation of the iris)

  • Migraine

  • Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)

  • Sinus problems

  • Sty (usually caused by infection)

  • Viral infections (eg flu)


Common treatments 

The causes of sore eyes vary widely, and so do the treatments for eye pain. 

In many cases eye pain can be relieved with home treatment.

However, if the pain is persistent, severe, or is associated with decreased vision you should seek medical attention immediately.

In most cases, home care consists of flushing the eye with water. With exposure to a foreign body or chemical to the eye, it is important to thoroughly flush the eye with lukewarm tap water or commercially prepared eyewash solution. If you think a foreign body is in your eye, do not rub your eye. This can seriously damage the eye by causing more damage to the surface as the foreign body is moved around with rubbing.

Do not attempt to remove a foreign body from your eye or someone else's eye.  

Treatment other than gentle eye irrigation is generally not recommended and should be reserved for medical professionals and eye doctors.  

For mild cases of eye discomfort, rest your eyes, take over-the-counter pain relievers and avoid bright light.  

For more serious complaints, treatments are tailored to the specific cause of eye pain.

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About Pain does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment